In 2017 we celebrate the 350th birthday of one of Ireland’s greatest figures, Jonathan Swift. He is best known as the author of Gulliver’s Travels, which he wrote in 1726, however Swift was a man of many talents. He attended both Trinity College Dublin and Oxford University and for a short time in his younger years he served as a secretary to the diplomat Sir William Temple. Swift maintained a keen interest in politics throughout his life but in 1694 decided to make a career change. He trained to become a protestant clergyman and served in parishes in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim and later in Laracor near Trim. Swift hoped to eventually rise through the ranks of the church to a become a bishop or even archbishop. However, his outspoken nature had earned him enemies which stunted promotion.
In 1713 he was appointed Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. He would have preferred a post in England and was not initially welcomed by the people of Dublin either.
Swift was a prolific writer throughout his life. He often published his work anonymously, perhaps as it gave him scope to write and comment more freely. In his early career he published "A Tale of a Tub" and "The Battle of the Books". He was a founding member of the Scriblerus Club, whose members included some of the greatest writers of the age such as Alexander Pope, William Congreve, John Gay and John Arbuthnot. In 1720 he began work on his most famous work “Gulliver’s Travels”, which became one of the greatest novels in English literature. In 1729 Swift published "A Modest Proposal" which caused huge controversy. In the book he suggested that 1 year old children in poor families should be sold to the rich so that they could be eaten. James Joyce later described Jonathan Swift as the greatest satirist in the English language. Swift understood the power of satire, sarcasm and comedy which he used to make political and social commentary.
Swift was often dismissed as a madman as a result of his shocking use of satire. Ironically in his later years he suffered from Menieres Disease which caused dizziness, nausea and his memory to fade. In 1738 he gradually slipped into senility, by 1739 he had effectively ceased to be Dean and in 1742 guardians were appointed to look after his affairs. He died on the 19th October 1745 and was buried in the Cathedral beside his beloved Stella. A brass on the floor at the West End of the nave marks his grave, and the black plaque above the Robing Room door contains his self-composed epitaph. The bust by Patrick Cunningham was executed for Swift’s publisher, George Faulkner and was presented to the Cathedral by Faulkner’s nephew.
Here lies the body of Jonathan Swift, Doctor of
Divinity and Dean of this Cathedral,
Where savage indignation can no longer
lacerate his heart;
Go traveller and imitate if you can, this dedicated and earnest champion of liberty.